Two days ago – after I posted my initial reflection about the latest turn in the Ray Rice episode – another piece of information came to light that I want to talk about briefly as well. The additional piece was a statement made by Janay Rice: the woman whom Ray punched in the face and knocked out in the video from last February.
In the statement, Janay lashed out. Many people not familiar with the story might assume she lashed out at Ray Rice: the man who had acted so violently against her. She did not. Instead, she lashed out at the media.
“No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family,” Janay wrote. “To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.”
Since that statement was made public, I’ve had a few conversations with folks wondering why Janay would lash out at the media and not her abuser.
In response to those questions, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned over the years about working with folks in domestic violence situations.
First, an act of domestic violence almost never occurs completely out of the blue. It’s usually part of a larger context in which the individual prone to violence “grooms” (or prepares) an individual in order to get them to accept the violence.
During the dating process, for instance, the individual prone to violence might start making statements intended to cut down the other’s self-esteem. They might start by joking, “Someone as plain as you is lucky to be with someone as good looking as me.” Or, “Boy, you are lucky to have someone like me in your life to take care of you. You’d never make it on your own!”
After the individual prone to violence has broken down the other’s self-esteem enough, the individual can then graduate to entry level acts of violence of intimidation. If the individual has a streak of jealousy, for instance, the individual might assume menacing postures toward his/her partner whenever the couple is around another who might be showing interest in partner. During a fight, the individual might also start grabbing or pushing the individual’s partner in order to get them to submit. These are just a few of the next steps perpetrators of violence take.
Finally, the individual prone to violence if often a masterful manipulator of emotions. One of the most common patterns exhibited by abusers, for instance, is the tendency to cry or apologize profusely after an outburst – promising it will NEVER happen again. Often, the apology is peppered with subtle blaming statements. “I’m so sorry I did that baby,” the individual might begin. “I wouldn’t have to do that if you would only listen to me the first time.”
That pattern (i.e. tearing down your partner’s self-esteem, slowly introducing acts of violence, manipulating emotions) is so effective at getting individuals to put up with things a person should NEVER put up with from a loved one.
Of course I haven’t even begun to approach the role that an individual’s background plays in the cycle of violence. If a person grew up seeing a parental figure in the household abuse or be abused, those experiences make it far more likely for people to continue those cycles of violence themselves.
All of this is to say there are very understandable reasons for why Janay Rice lashed out at the media and not her abuser in the hours following the release of the video.
All of what I have touched upon are things that any helping professional could have brought up. I want to close today by touching on something that I think our churches and faith communities need to think about in terms of ways they can unknowingly contribute to these situations. In order to make my point, I’ll use a brief story I encountered years ago.
I knew someone who disclosed to me that she had once been in a long-term abusive relationship. I was shocked when she disclosed she had been in such a relationship – because I viewed her as an extremely strong person. This disclosure came at a time in my life when my worldview was much more simplistic. I’m embarrassed know to think I knew who would be susceptible to violent relationships and who wouldn’t. Nevertheless, I’ll continue the story.
She was raised in a church that told her a young woman is of value only if she is a good girl and saves herself for marriage. She intended to do that. One day in high school, however, a young man who showed interest in her forced himself on her. At that point, the young woman thought about the messages her church taught her. Since she was no longer pure, she figured no “good guy” would want her: so she entered into a relationship with her abuser.
As I’ve thought about the situation a number of times over the years, the story reminds me how careful those of us in churches and faith communities have to be when talking about sensitive issues such as sexuality. If we are not careful with our language, we too can create situations that cause individuals who are being abused to feel trapped in horrible situations (including dangerous marriages). We must grow in our capacity to use language that acknowledges that acknowledges changing and unexpected circumstances.
Today I would invite us all to think about ways we can communicate with others. When talking publicly about situations like the Rices’, we must be careful never to joke about the situation or make statements that sound like we are blaming the victim. Instead, we can challenge ourselves to remember the complexities involved and make sure that our words and actions affirm the sacred value of each person and their right to live in situations free from violence and abuse no matter what.
Together we CAN put an end to the rising tide of domestic violence and create faith communities that are more likely to support loving, nurturing, and supportive homes for ALL people.
See you next time!